ASCH: A way forward on gerrymandering reform

Regardless of the Supreme Court decision regarding partisan gerrymandering, Virginia should adopt an independent redistricting commission

op-Gerrymandering-CourtesyWikimediaCommons

At the national level this issue has gained some traction, with the Supreme Court likely to rule on the gerrymandering cases from Maryland and Wisconsin soon. 

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Partisan gerrymandering is a pervasive problem in the United States. Look no further than the 2017 statewide elections, where Democrats enjoyed stunning gains in the House of Delegates, but still failed to gain a majority despite their overwhelming victory. This was a result of partisan redistricting, with legislative districts drawn up by Republicans allowing them to preserve their majority despite losing the election. In addition, Virginia’s congressional districts have also come under scrutiny for being racially gerrymandered. In fact the gerrymandering was so blatant, a federal court invalidated the map, which allowed Democrats in Virginia to gain a seat in the House of Representatives.

At the national level this issue has gained some traction, with the Supreme Court likely to rule on the gerrymandering cases from Maryland and Wisconsin soon. Though it is a positive step forward that the courts are reviewing partisan gerrymandering and may strike down these maps, attempting to create a standard for which a district is considered to be “too partisan” would be incredibly difficult. State legislatures — who are the best equipped to address this issue — must create a permanent fix, so that moving forward gerrymandering will not continue to occur. Though it is essential that maps such as Wisconsin’s and Maryland’s be reformed in some manner, it is ultimately up to the states that draw the districts in the first place to create a process through which districts can be drawn in the least partisan way possible. 

In order to meet this goal, Virginia should create a bipartisan independent redistricting commission, much like what is done in California. The state of California once had many difficulties with gerrymandering like many other states, however, several ballot initiatives were passed that allowed for the creation a citizen redistricting commission. For this commission five Republicans, five Democrats and four individuals who decline to state their political affiliation are chosen and are tasked with drawing fair districts. Though many were skeptical at first, the commission has done a good job of making many legislative districts competitive. This success means California has the potential to be a model for other states seeking to halt partisan redistricting. 

Though there have been several attempts to address partisan redistricting in the Virginia legislature, the most promising work is being done outside of government.  Virginia 2021 — an organization dedicated to addressing gerrymandering — has been attempting to cultivate grassroots support to fix Virginia’s broken redistricting process. While Virginia 2021 supports litigation to address gerrymandering, it mostly focuses on passing a constitutional amendment in Virginia to establish an independent redistricting commission. Having a constitutional amendment which is directly voted on by citizens would be an effective way to address this problem, since support for limiting gerrymandering is very high and even cuts across party lines. Like it says in its name, the organization hopes to have the Constitutional amendment on the ballot by 2021. Though it is incredibly difficult to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot in Virginia, the work that groups like Virginia 2021 do is essential and worthy of support. 

It is necessary that action be taken to address the problem, no matter the odds, because it thwarts the will of the people to choose their representatives. An example of the the voices of citizens being stifled through gerrymandering can be seen during the 2012 Congressional elections, where Democrats won 1.4 million more votes for the House of Representatives, but the Republicans actually won control of the chamber. This reality makes it clear that in America lawmakers can choose their voters, and avoid being voted out of office by rigging the system. 

Given the reality of gerrymandering with which Americans live, it is essential that something be done to address it. Artificially safe districts help nobody except the politicians that draw them. Creating an independent redistricting commission would help address this problem and make the redistricting process less political, but the solution cannot be implemented without people advocating for it. 

Partisan gerrymandering cannot be solved by the Supreme Court alone — it must be accompanied by other actions at the state level to halt partisan gerrymandering. Without this action, lawmakers will continue to draw districts that are good for them, but not for their constituents. Though we cannot do as much to address the problem in other states, Virginians should take notice that the tide is turning against partisan gerrymandering and support efforts in the legislature and from outside groups to solve it. 

Jacob Asch is an Opinion Editor for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at j.asch@cavalierdaily.com


CORRECTION: This article previously misstated the number of individuals on the California redistricting committee. It has been updated to reflect the correct number of individuals. 

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